To Reach Your Goal, Change Tactics in the Middle
- June 08, 2017
- CBR - Behavioral Science
It’s a well-established notion in behavioral science that people have two motivational systems. The first is “promotion”—thinking about the positive aspects of seeking a goal, and the positive actions taken to achieve it. The other is “prevention”—avoiding negative actions that would impede a goal. In most people, one of those motivational systems tends to be stronger, says Bullard. Research by Stanford’s Jennifer L. Aaker and Northwestern’s Angela Y. Lee found in 2001 that North Americans are predominantly promotion focused.
But Bullard and Manchanda uncover some nuance in that trade-off, finding that when people are pursuing a goal, they change their view of the goal and their motivational system, switching from a promotion focus in the earlier stages to prevention later on. The researchers suggest that understanding and harnessing that “motivational switch” could help goal seekers.
In one experiment, Bullard and Manchanda asked people to imagine being at various stages of pursuing a goal, such as losing 15 pounds. Study participants viewed their goal as promotion focused at the beginning and as prevention focused toward the end of their pursuit. The researchers observed the same pattern of results when participants pursued actual goals. Participants in earlier stages focused on positive outcomes and worked toward those. In later stages, they worked to avoid negative outcomes.
- Jennifer L. Aaker and Angela Y. Lee, “‘I’ Seek Pleasures and ‘We’ Avoid Pains: The Role of Self-Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion,” Journal of Consumer Research, June 2001.
- Olya Bullard and Rajesh V. Manchanda, “How Goal Progress Influences Regulatory Focus in Goal Pursuit,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, July 2017.
- E. Tory Higgins, “Beyond Pleasure and Pain,” American Psychologist, December 1997.
- Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach, “The Small-Area Hypothesis: Effects of Progress Monitoring on Goal Adherence,” Journal of Consumer Research, February 2012.
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